- The Washington Times - Friday, October 8, 2004

Foreign observers planning to monitor the U.S. presidential election defended their mission yesterday, saying they were in the United States by invitation from the State Department and hoped to learn from the American vote as well as critique it.

For the first time, about 60 parliamentarians from countries within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will be part of a team monitoring a U.S. presidential election.

The large mission has sparked criticism from some groups that see it as a violation of U.S. sovereignty and a potential infringement on the right of states to regulate and run presidential elections.

Konrad Olszewski, an official in the OSCE’sOffice for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said it would be “less than truthful” to argue that international interest in the 2004 vote had not been increased by the problems experienced in the 2000 election.

“But observing elections in any OSCE country is business as usual for us. It is nothing out of the ordinary,” he said.

Barbara Haering, a Swiss parliamentarian who will lead the observer operations during the vote, said it was important for the OSCE to observe elections not just in struggling countries, but also in established democracies such as the United States.

At a press briefing yesterday, OSCE officials denied there was any partisan bent to the mission. Critics have questioned the role of Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat, who heads the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

Following its usual practice, Mr. Olszewski said, the OSCE will not allow U.S. lawmakers or Americans on the Vienna, Austria-based OSCE staff to take part in the U.S. observer mission or in the post-election assessment tentatively set to be issued a day or two after the Nov. 2 vote.

Ms. Haering said where the observer teams will be deployed on Election Day has yet to be determined, but she hopes to get a “balanced picture” that will include states where the race is expected to be close and states using new regulations and technologies such as touch-screen voting.

Rita Suessmuth, a former speaker of the German parliament and a member of the observer mission, said she hoped the OSCE mission would be “constructive for both sides.”

“It is important for the OSCE not just to observe the U.S. elections, but to learn from them” for future elections by other members of the bloc, she said.

The 55-nation OSCE mission was invited to observe the U.S. election by the State Department, although the invitation privately has angered some in the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill.

About 60 European parliamentarians from 25 countries are expected to be among the approximately 100-member mission to be deployed to voting sites across the United States from Oct. 30 to Election Day.

The 29-year-old OSCE, founded in the midst of the Cold War, obliges members to abide by standards regarding human rights, electoral fairness and transparency.

OSCE observers are deployed routinely to elections in troubled and semi-democratic states, but also have monitored voting practices in countries such as Greece, Canada, France and Iceland.

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